Molly Sayles

April 2018

Molly Sayles is the current, full time Band Director at Bennet Academy in Manchester, CT. She received her Bachelor of Science in Music Education, Cum Laude, from Western Connecticut State University (WCSU). An accomplished student musician, she was chosen to perform as a member of the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Jazz Orchestra (MACJO), performing at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola- Jazz at Lincoln Center.  Ms. Sayles has had the good fortune to play with renowned guest artists including Sean Jones, Curtis Fuller, Jimmy Greene, John Pattitucci, and Renee Rosnes and credits her many dedicated music teachers with helping her to achieve her performance and educational goals. Whether at the Elementary or Secondary level, Ms. Sayles continues to realize the importance of arts education. She is an active percussionist and regularly performs in Jazz groups across the region.

Check out the below interview with Molly!

What is your background in music- Do you have roots in Connecticut? Feel free to also tell us a little bit about yourself.
I want to thank PAS for featuring me in the April 2018 newsletter. I first learned of PAS as a freshman enrolled at Western Connecticut State University where I attended my first PAS sponsored event. It was very informative and made a great impression upon me so, I have been a member since. I was raised in Connecticut and began my percussion instruction in an outstanding public school music program in Colchester. There, while in fourth grade, I was introduced to percussion by Paul Coyle, Band Teacher, at Jack Jackter Elementary School. Mr Coyle, a former studio saxophonist with ties to the band ‘Chicago’, left an instant impression on me. He introduced me to all things percussion where I took to it like a duck does to water! By Middle School, I had advanced to playing Jazz and Symphonic music under the direction of Gary Hart at the William J. Johnston Middle School. Mr. Hart brought us to many Jazz Festivals with the highlight being the Clark Terry Jazz Festival at the University of New Hampshire. It was a big deal to all of us. I shook hands with Clark Terry and heard him perform at the tender age of 88. What a performance! Throughout high school, I was able to compete at the Berklee College of Music High School Jazz Festival. During my Junior year at Bacon Academy, I dropped a drumstick during a solo. Thank goodness I had left a set of sticks on my bass drum to grab allowing me to not miss a beat! Afterward, I was a bit disappointed with myself but did my best not to show it. I learned alot from that experience as the judges awarded me one of two coveted “Superior Musician” awards that day. What a life lesson! That performance had taught me how important it was to recover from a mistake and to continue to perform. I guess I showed character that day! I will never forget that.

You had a chance to pursue a degree in Music Education, while also splitting your time between “classical,” and “jazz” percussion. Please describe your experiences in both programs and how each has impacted you as a musician today.
Truthfully, I came out of High School thinking I wanted to be a performance major. My parents encouraged me to get an Ed. degree. I am glad I took their advice. While I was accepted into a few fairly prestigious programs, I decided to attend Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) where they had a great program for Music Ed. majors who could perform. I found out quickly my fellow college classmates were serious musicians. No slouches! WCSU was a great place to learn how to teach and still have plenty of performance opportunities. I can thank Dr. Dan Goble, Jamie Begian, David Smith, Jimmy Greene, Dr. Cory Ganschow and Dr. Timothy Wiggins for encouraging and developing my skill sets in both education and performance. I studied classical percussion with David Smith where I focused on repertoire for snare drum, timpani, and marimba. I performed in the WCSU Wind Ensemble under the direction of Dr. Fernando Jimenez and the WCSU Percussion Ensemble under the direction of David Smith. Though, to continue my passion for Jazz I was able to take Jazz Keyboard classes with Peter Tomlinson as well as Jazz combo courses under the direction of Peter Tomlinson, Deborah Weisz, David Scott and Jimmy Greene, ‘Frankensax’ under the direction of Andrew Beals and the WCSU Big Band under the direction of Jamie Begian and Jimmy Greene. One of the highlights of my senior year at WCSU was my acceptance into the Mid Atlantic Collegiate Jazz Orchestra (MACJO) in 2015. We performed at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola with special guest conductor Sean Jones. The club was like nothing I had ever seen. My fellow bandmates were  from schools all along the east coast. It was an exciting weekend to say the least. The split between Jazz and Classical seemed natural and I am thankful particularly now as I teach symphonic music as well as Jazz to my students in Manchester.

As someone who is hard at work as a full time music teacher, has it been challenging to keep up with practice, and playing for enjoyment? How do you balance your life as a professional teacher, performer, and percussive enthusiast?
Let’s face it, while in college, the only thing I had to focus on was being immersed in music. Putting a roof over my head and food on my table was not a concern. How life has changed! As a professional educator in a public school system, my priority is my teaching job where I have to practice not only percussion but brass and woodwind instruments as well. Outside of school I am fortunate to have playing opportunities as a form of recreation. Performing is a great outlet and I really do enjoy it. That aside, I exercise regularly to maintain my energy because, of course, performing happens after-hours in jazz and music clubs. I sleep a lot the next day!

Currently, what is taking up the majority of your time as a performing musician?
I went from performing in structured Classical and Jazz ensembles in college to now performing in flexible genre situations. I have taken the skill sets I’ve learned and apply them to any performing situation that comes my way. Most recently I have been performing Jazz standards and pop tunes with friends from college. It is certainly enjoyable to perform with great friends and for an audience that enjoys the music.

Currently, what is taking up the majority of your time as an educator?
I would say planning and keeping up with grading takes up a big portion of my day. The biggest lesson I have learned throughout my three years in teaching so far is to make sure to assign playing quizzes. It helps to ensure that students are practicing book work assigned including any concert music handed out. I have seen the most progress when grades are on the line!

Have you found the music scene in Connecticut to have a decent amount of opportunity for percussionists and musicians? Where have you found your most success in the area of performance?
As the old saying goes ‘seek and ye shall find’. There are many performance venues and opportunities in CT. All you have to do is knock on the door and sell your capabilities.

Who are some of your biggest influences, and how have they impacted the player and teacher you are today?
In my public schooling years I can remember distinctly the drive, passion and dedication each one of my  teachers had for their students and program. I was thankful to have been challenged  through difficult repertoire and performing constantly. In all honesty, there are too many ‘musical heroes’ to list. Each and every educator I have come in contact with has influenced my musical career and who I am today. Though, if I could speak of one person, I’d have to say Art Hovey. Art is one of the founding members of the Galvanized Jazz Band which he started while a student at Yale in the early 1960’s. The Galvanized Jazz Band plays Traditional Jazz and they have performed all over the United States alongside some of the biggest names in jazz. I came to know Art during the Summer following sixth-grade when I asked to audition for a new youth jazz band to perform at ‘The Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival’ in Moodus. It was a blast! Our Jazz Band stayed together for four more years and performed each year at the ‘Hot Steam Jazz Festival’ in Essex. We were eventually invited to perform at many different venues including Bill’s Seafood in Westbrook. While playing with this particular group I met and played with the Brubeck Brothers, Jim Oblon, Scott Black of Leon Redbone band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It taught me a great deal about music and the relationships you can form with others. And now, fourteen-years later I will be performing with Art Hovey this April! I am thankful for his guidance and would not trade the experience I had performing with his group for anything in the world.

How can we connect with you to keep up with your life as a percussionist?
Here comes a little shameless self promotion-beyond teaching in a public school system, I am accepting students of all abilities at Summit Studios in Manchester, CT.  Otherwise, shoot me a facebook message and I’d be glad to share performance dates. Thank you again for giving me a chance to share how being a percussionist and music educator has enriched my life. PAS is a great community!